Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shedding a little blood for the common good!

One of the advantages of not being employed is that I have had the time to attend many events which I missed while I was at La Rochelle - for example the Eisteddfod (at which I assisted with announcing), the Harare International Festival of Arts where I have seen 2 productions, the Peterhouse concert; and this week the Schools Rugby Festival.

Just today I have had over 84 American visitors to the Blog, so I am going to devote today's posting entirely to . . . rugby!

In Zimbabwe, we play soccer as our national sport, but rugby is played in our schools, and it is a game which causes much confusion to those watching it for the first time. It is, however, a simple game - much like American Football (grid-iron) except that we don't wear crash helmets (though cloth skull caps for some players are acceptable), we play continuously for 80 minutes without 'huddles and cuddles', we don't wear padding under our shirts, and we do not wear genitalia-revealing spandex tights as our uniform.

No Siree Bob, we don't!

Watching the Festival was very much a trip down memory lane for me - I played  in the very same Rugby Festival some 32 years ago, when I played as fullback for Peterhouse. Those who know the game will be aware that the player in that position wears the number '15' on their back, and today's Peterhouse fullback looked just like me - back in the day!

OK - maybe I wasn't quite that black - but you get the idea!

The crowd today numbered around 2,500 at peak, but on the final day will probably number around 4,000.

Throughout the Festival, there are 132 teams representing schools from all over Zimbabwe, which translates to around 2,900 children playing over the 6 days, inclusive of substitutes. And out of the 132 teams - 22 are made up of girls! No-one can accuse Zimbabweans of being wilting willows!

So there is an almost carnival atmosphere, which may surprise my international readers who are more accustomed to reading of schoolgirls being kidnapped and sold into slavery by the radical Islamists of Boko Haram, than schoolgirls playing rugby. But this is the way we roll in Zim. There were even some 'cheerleaders' in attendance...

I was very fortunate to be able to watch the Peterhouse v Botswana U/19 game today, as well as a lot of other rugby along the way. All in all, the spirit shown throughout the day by the players (with the exception of one 'victory celebration' by an unnamed school which was regrettable as it basically ridiculed the losers) was excellent, and generally all matches were played with integrity and respect.

So let me try and explain rugby to my American audience . . .

The skills needed to play rugby are quite simple. You need to be able to fight for the ball, though it is considered bad manners to punch your opponent while doing so ...

In addition, you need to be prepared to tackle, and be tackled. The game does not stop once you are tackled - all that happens is another gentlemanly fight breaks out for the ball. So it makes sense for 3 players to tackle one . .

In addition, you need to be able to jump fairly high - because when the ball goes out of the field of play, it is thrown back in, and the highest jumper generally secures it  . . .

What a great photo - no?

So what happens when you play a fairly physical game without all the namby-pamby protective clothing worn by the players of the favorite sport of the world's most powerful nation (after China)? Well a few injuries do occur - but when a player goes down, it is customary for play to continue until the next 'foul play' after which the injured player will be attended to. The other players all try their very best not to run over injured players while they are lying on the ground - indeed, everyone tries very hard not to trample on unconscious players . . .

And, somewhat inevitably, a little blood is spilled - but it is all for a good cause. Once you start bleeding quite a lot, you have to leave the field and go and get medical attention to staunch the flow as much as possible. . .

The thing is this - bleeding all over the field makes the grass very slippery, so if they can't actually stop the flow of blood, then they patch things up as best they can, and send the player back onto the field to carry on playing. Any stitching that is required is done when the game is over.

But some wounds are easier to tape up effectively than others. This next photo, for me, epitomizes the game of rugby, and I am only sorry that my playing days are over! Once more into the breech, dear friends. . .

The best thing about having a really good 'blood nose' is the unexpected bounty it offers up the following morning. Indeed, you can safely skip breakfast secure in the knowledge that complex (and colourful) proteins will be at hand throughout the day.

Congratulations to Peterhouse on winning the match, and doing so honorably, and likewise kudos to Botswana U/19 for playing hard, and their 'ne'er say die' approach. Good luck to both teams for the rest of the Festival.

Have a great day!

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